Museums – our national genius

PompeiiI may frequently express criticisms about their finer workings but British museums and galleries are generally

superbly run. Heroic efforts are made to minimise the impact of funding cuts so that even regular visitors will notice little or no impact. From looking at the outward face of our museums you would never guess the country was in anything like the mess the numbers would indicate. They open on time: they have excellent facilities; their staffs are visible, willing and

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helpful; their experts are google_ad_height = 90; sought
after the world

Italy runs its museums – and it does seem to be – no wonder British and German experts are being wooed, because even
organising the basics efficiently defeats Italians.

The situation is hopeless and it starts as
soon as you arrive. Gates open half an hour late, which especially annoys those scores who have arrived early to steal a march on a punishing summer sun. Once admitted, crowds jostle forever to buy a ticket because only two people are taking money. Matters are made worse because neither has any change. They accept only the correct money which must involve coins. In Italy it is virtually impossible to have coins not least because no
one will give them to you: they hoard them like juju beads. The inevitable chaos is entirely avoidable and compounded when concessionary cards are not accepted unless accompanied by a passport. Endless negotiations ensue with each now sweating and thoroughly exasperated visitor. You then try the bookshop for a guide and detailed map. They don’t have any change either and diagrams in the Blue Guide are better than the childish plan costing a euro. So extreme is the provocative indifference of staff it can only be intended as a calculated insult. It’s as though they don’t want you //--> here.

In general museum bookshops and cafés are, throughout Italy, not seen as important revenue earners or as

​ crucial a part of further education as we treat them in Britain. At Reggio’s museum they provide a rudimentary brochure for 7 euros about the Riace bronzes, the most precious sculptures of the ancient Greek world. Many of those making the trek to this furthest bunion of land will be willing to pay a premium for something more detailed. There is no bookshop at Tiberius’s villa in Sperlonga, the remarkable Villa Poppeia at Oplontis, or

at the Agrigento Museum with its stunning collection of red and black ware.

The anarchy characterising admission to

Pompeii follows you about the site. In nearly all the most treasured areas there is no google_ad_width = 970; visible
security. At the distant Villa of the Mysteries, to which I arrived in advance of everyone else, not a soul was there to protect what are among google_ad_width = 970; the most important paintings in the history of classical google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; art. Perfect for me, despite the fact that they weren’t properly visible because unlit, but I fear dwelling on the damage parties of Europe’s and Asia’s squealing, uninterested and accessoried oiks might wreak on a place like this – they look with their hands.

They say that Pompeii is the place in which to wander, get lost and release your imagination. Indeed it is, but you can’t do this because too little of even the excavated area is open. Crime-scene tape forces you to remain on thoroughfares which rapidly become Wembley Way on cup final day.

At the farthest extremities of the site google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; there


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no services. There is nowhere to sit comfortably or to buy the fluid necessary when, as on my recent visit, the temperature soars beyond forty degrees centigrade. There are water fountains if you are prepared to trust the liquid coming out of them in a city with a pervasive smell of drains and where essential social infrastructure of hygiene and refuse


collection have disintegrated. (Naples
is a memorable city but filthier even than Oldham.) A third of my eight hours were spent sitting reading either
Mary Beard or an old guidebook while trying to satisfy unquenchable thirst. An air-conditioned café on the periphery near the amphitheatre with coins in the till, simple food and cold drinks, and


ice cream, would have cleaned up. By the time they’ve beaten the long procession around to the theatres, all visitors are as stripped and dessicated as Peter O’Toole staggering across the Devil’s


Anvil. It would be so easy to make this unique place even more of a memorable experience than it is.

Beside its serial inconveniences, the site’s main offence has to be a new building of which administrators are so proud as

to make it a feature of all publicity material. As with many European museum extensions, this contract has gone to a person with

no visual sense at all. It is a large pyramid whose job is to display in a sort of cock pit the famous plaster casts of the perished. This structure should have google_ad_width = 970; been built almost anywhere other google_ad_slot = "7160667483"; than where it has been. Placed bang in the


middle of the amphitheatre, the full effect of that otherwise special place is thus ruined. Visitors are not allowed on to google_ad_height = 90; the terraces so the only panoramic experience of it is as you enter the arena, only to find the view impeded by a structure which has ‘Brussels’ written all over its design


and materials.

Pompeii’s amphitheatre is significant. It was built in

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the first century BC (160 years before the Colosseum) and was the first permanent stone
Roman amphitheatre; other similar arenas are a refinement of the incipient form found here. It has two sets of external diagonal staircases giving access to upper tiers. On a previous visit I’d had been struck by the impact of the interior, and was looking forward to seeing it /* xin-1 */ again, a spectacle now regrettably sacrificed

to a populist stunt.


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is not unusual in Italy. Other sites seem